The men's shows are ovah and it's on to the spring couture shows. We had our contributor Long Nguyen, co-founder and style director of Flaunt, front row taking it all in. Here are his reports from the menswear shows at Lanvin, Comme des Garçons, Dior Homme, and the man of the hour, Thom Browne.
Falling snow blanketed the courtyard outside the Beaux Arts where Lanvin menswear designer Lucas Ossendrijver and creative director Alber Elbaz showed their fall collection. Once inside, waiters served hot coffee and muffins to guests for the morning's presentation.
Music blasted from the speakers and broke the rather serene atmosphere, and out came an extremely versatile collection--one that ranged from very fitted plaid suits with pants as tight as leggings to slouchy double breasted jackets. Brown and blue leather trimmed duffle coats were perfect for the current Paris freeze.
Colorful sneakers lent the collection a sporty look. These new winter shoes paired well with these precisely cut and tightly tailored suits--though there seemed to be less of an emphasis on innovative tech fabrics this season.
Flashes of red broke up a gloomy dark palette. I liked the lavender organza dress shirt worn with slim black pants--a sexy alternative to the usual stuffy evening tuxedos. At times, the show felt like it was veering from one extreme to another: From very tight to very loose silhouettes to a combination of both. While presenting contrasting proportions may be considered a ‘no-no’ for fashion shows, Lanvin menswear focuses on innovative clothes for a diverse range of customers. There will be plenty more offerings for retail that weren't shown on the runway.
The fresh smell of shaved lumber, which covered the floor of the Tennis Club near the stadium for Paris Saint Germain (currently the top seeded team in France), gave a hint of what was to come at Thom Browne's fall menswear show. It was a barn-raising-themed set (yep), complete with wood frame structures and multiple black doors. The entry door featured an upside down steel cross. This sure wasn’t Little House on the Prairie. Blindfolded models were chained to the wooden frames with black leather shackles, each using a black hammer to bang methodically on the frame throughout the entire presentation. They were dressed in the classic Thom Browne slim gray short pantsuit, the bread and butter of Browne’s business. However fantastical the narrative of each of his shows, you can always count on seeing models wearing this uniform, as sort of a reality check. All the models wore black or grey felt hats and dark sunglasses, and carried a light grey slim business case as they opened and closed each the doors of the set and made their way around the house. Their outfits were a contrast to the simple setting: A cropped black fur coat was worn over a grey jacquard jacket, a grey square cape was worn with a Prince de Galles long coat with flared short pants. And these were among the more streamlined looks!
Mr. Browne didn't employ the metaphors of construction without reason. Against the models hammering imaginary nails, he built a new silhouette--a broad and very elevated shoulder for jackets and coats and a short wide-legged pant. The designer could have done this show in a more straightforward manner without dragging us to the outskirts of Paris on a snowy Sunday evening--but then we would have been left yearning for that creativity and imagination.
Comme des Garçons
Inside a small rectangular shaped studio space down a long side street off the vast Nation square, Rei Kawakubo presented a sweet collection of loose fit jackets and coats made with fabrics used for upholstery. Chenilles in colorful pale pastels were a stark contrast to the gray Parisian sky. There were short tail jackets in a pink print, a mustard colored coat done in a curtain-like fabric, and chenille two-button jackets in fuchsia. All the models sported shoulder-length wigs made of real human hair, some with leather rabbit ears atop their wigs. Midway through the show, the music stopped and a single overhead light descended in the middle of the runway to indicate a change of mood and color. Out came a series of black one-button suits with long jackets embroidered at the hem. It’s easy to see how Comme des Garçons has managed to construct a vast and expanding retail empire over the years, far from the often puzzling and controversial fashion shows where Kawakubo indulges in the ultimate exercise of creativity without borders. Separately, each item from this show will find its way into the stores and into customers’ hands: A gold jacquard coat, an acid green embroidered sweatshirt, or a cropped black single breasted jacket decorated with round pompoms.
A stark white vinyl runway provided a futuristic setting for Kris Van Assche’s Dior Homme show. The clean white outer-space-like atmosphere allowed the designer to ponder what’s next for Dior Homme. He pared down the classic single-breasted suits into form fitting silhouettes that wrapped around each models’ body. Fine zippers replaced buttons to ensure tight closures of jackets and coats. But it wasn't the extra-tight fitted looks of the mid oughts--this time the jackets were a bit looser around the waist and had stronger shoulders.
There was a military feel to the whole collection, a sense of a uniform: Clean lines, and proportions delineated by zipper and belts. The colorblocked suits in the middle of the show seemed out of place. And as for the significance of the triangle inside the circle print that appeared on sweatshirts and blazers? That's anyone's guess.
Men’s fashion moves at a snail's pace. History and heritage figure predominantly into the references of the classic male wardrobe. How to drive this behemoth forward in a creative manner has never been an easy road.
While many of the attendees at Paris's men’s shows welcome a more outrageous and avant-garde approach to dressing, they are not representative of today’s menswear customers. The focus and challenge of major designer brands today is to produce these key items at a luxury price level that appeal to a broad range of men. At this level, ‘fashion’ and clothes aren’t necessarily the same. Dior Homme grows out of the house’s women couture heritage where the emphasis is on tailoring. Here clothes are not made for the two-dimensional image but for consumers. Subtle design and quality fabrications are the fundamentals that do change in men’s fashion. Looking at this show from this perspective, Van Assche accomplished his mission in providing what his customers demand at retail with a refined touch of space-age.